The Godman family of St Stephen’s

Row of cottages opposite St Stephen's Church 2015

Row of cottages opposite St Stephen’s Church 2015

According to Noel Godman, the Godman family have been involved with St Stephen’s for over 500 years.

The Godman family were a family of skilled engineers. John Godman (1828-1908) was born in the St Stephens area  and was baptised at St Stephens Church on April 15th 1829. He was a land and timber surveyor before became an overseer and the parish clerk for the parish of St Stephens for 57 years. He was also the church organist from 1860-1882. In the census data from 1861 to  1901, he was listed as “Surveyor, Overseer and Parish Clerk”. He was also the census enumerator. In 1854 he married Mary Ann Sprigg in Hatfield who was a Hatfield girl. They had five children: John Henry was born in 1856, Jane in 1858, Frederick in 1860, Arthur in 1862 and Rosa in 1864. John and Mary lived  in Chantry Cottage St Stephen’s, one of the houses opposite St Stephen’s Church. In 1891 his house was a post office and his wife Mary Ann was listed as the sub postmistress.

John kept  the Gorhambury clock at Batchwood in order, which was an experimental model for the clock at Westminster. The tower clock and other church clocks at St Albans were made by him. He made the St Albans Abbey chimes for Lord Grimthorpe, also an organ for St Stephen’s Church which, when the present organ was built, was sold to Redbourn Wesleyan Church.

Arthur Godman, the brother of John Godman, made the barrels for the chimes. He rang the sixth bell in a peel of Grandsire at St Albans Abbey on 12 January 1886. He used to chime the bells for Services at St Stephen’s Church.

John Godman’s son, Arthur Godman (born 1862) also rang the abbey bells. He was also a well-known bee-keeper. His brother, John Henry (1856-1930) of West View Road St Albans, had a workshop in Union Lane, St Albans and undertook work for Lord Grimthorpe. John Henry and his other brother Fred (born 1860) invented a straw hat making machine.

John Henry Godman had two sons John Searle baptised in 1899 at St Stephen’s and William (Bill) who brought their engineering skills to the chronometer manufacturer, Thomas Mercer.  They were said to be brilliant and could turn their hand to anything mechanical. In Mercers Chronometers: history, maintenance and repair by Tony Mercer, John S. Godman is described as:”a fine engineer with a long family history of engineering expertise, his temperament was laconic and direct. He spent all his life in the machine shop making sure that they were working to his high standards. He worked with his brother Bill on new products, including their single blade detent. As the company developed he accepted the challenge of more complicated modern production equipment and dealt with it. Later in life he built his own workshop at home and made regulators. One is in the British Museum”.  His brother Bill (William) is described as: “a craftsman without equal, who could make anything. His work involved making exchange telegraph machines, vibrographs for testing the vibration on any part of an aeroplane body and wings, chronographs used in conjunction with survey chronometers, clockwork torpedoes for the Norwegian underground during World War II. Any mechanism could be made and made to work. A dour man who rebuilt Harrison’s chronometer No 1 and No 3 with the help of his brother John (they took it in their stride).” It is said that John never got out of bed until 11am but he stayed up half the night working and was not very good with his money. He loved brass bands and built acetylene lamps for the players to see their music. He built the locks at St Stephen’s and St Peter’s Churches. His last effort was a steam engine car for Lord Verulam which instead of brakes had an air compressor which also helped to drive the car uphill on gradients. One of John’s models went on sale at Christie’s in London in 2004. Details can be seen here.

Noel Godman born on Christmas Day 1927 in St Julian’s Road, was also a precision engineer following in the family footsteps. He is the son of John Searle Godman.





  1. John G E Cox

    Useful info, about John Godman’s creation of chimes for Abbey carillon in 19th century. 2016 is the 200th anniversary of Grimthorpe (Edmund Beckett Denison), later Sir Edmund Beckett, 5th Bt. (1874) and
    finally Baron Grimthorpe (1886)

    An exhibition relating to “Grimthorpe: 1816-2016” a re-appraisal is SAHAAS Heritage Exhibition in the
    Cathedral Library, Friday 9 – Tuesday, 13 Sept; and in North Transept Wed. 14 – Sun. 18 Sept.
    demonstrating his genius, generosity and brilliance.

  2. David Miller

    According to John Searle Godman’s parents were Arthur William and Harriett Hannah Godman. John Searle Godman born 9 May 1899, baptised 11 Jun 1899 at Saint Stephen, Hertfordshire.

    • Jane Masson

      That makes sense. I am the great granddaughter of John Henry Godman and my father did a lot of research into the family. John Henry didn’t have a son named John Searle. He had one named John Leonard, born 1886, Archibald Frederick, born 1888, Cyril Charles, born 1891, and Reginald George Alban, born 1900. He also had five daughters. I would be very interested to hear from other family members and share information.


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